By: Lander Lee, Foster Undergraduate who participated in National University of Singapore Exchange
After living on the other side of the world for 5 months, you begin to really see the differences between Singapore and the United States. Here are some of the Singaporean quirks that I found were the most blog worthy:
Singaporean cleanliness: You will not find a country that is more clean than Singapore and is arguably one of the safest countries in the world (as a result of the country’s very strict laws with high fines and penalties). Just walking across campus, I see people trimming hedges, power washing sidewalks, and mowing the lawn multiple times a week. You will not see streets littered with trash anywhere. It’s almost impossible to find pieces of gum anywhere near or in a train station (Also, chewing gum in Singapore is not a crime. However, selling gum in the country is.)
Singaporean safety: Very rarely will you find yourself feeling endangered at any point walking throughout Singapore. It’s not uncommon to see young kinds using the public transportation alone at all hours of the day. In Singapore, people reserve their spots in cafeterias or hawker centres by leaving something behind in their place. It is common to see people using packets of tissue paper to reserve their spots. However, on NUS campus, it is common to see students leaving behind their backpacks, laptops, or even wallets and purses on the table to save their lunch spot. Although the administration warns exchange students not to do this, the campus is an even safer place compared to the already safe country of Singapore. During finals week, you will see abandoned study spots in the library littered with laptops and valuables just lying around to save people’s spots. Although it’s not the best habit to get accustomed to, it’s nice to live in an area where you feel so safe and comfortable with your belongings. Only in Singapore can you lose your wallet, come back for it the next day where you left it and still find all your cash and belongings inside. A local student told me, “You’re more likely to get your flip flops stolen than your laptop.”
Singapore, a former British colony: Because of their colonization, they follow Britain’s lead. They have the same power outlets as England. Most importantly, they drive and walk on the same side of the road, the left side. This may seem like a silly thing that you’ll easily adjust to. However, even at the end of my semester, I was still looking for oncoming cars on the wrong side of the road when crossing the street.
Singapore has bags for everything. They even have bags to carry your drinks. I’ve even been offered bags to carry pizza boxes in (It wasn’t necessarily easier than carrying it by hand but it did the job). I’m not really sure why you need a bag to carry a drink, but they have the option to do so.
To all the avid coffee drinkers, realize that “black” coffee in southeast Asia doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in the United States. Even when you ask for “black” coffee, it will most likely still be sweet. Singapore has a list of terminologies for different ways to take your coffee depending on how much sugar and ice you like, so try a couple out when you get the chance!
Singlish = Singaporean English – NUS teaches their curriculum in English. However, Singapore is composed of Chinese, Malay, and Indian peoples. The English in Singapore has evolved as a result and has taken on some of the characteristics and terminologies from the different country’s cultures. To exchange students, Singaporeans will try to speak to you in a more formal English and may avoid using Singlish (from my personal experience). However, it’s interesting to hear Singlish is passing to say the least – try to learn a couple phrases while you’re there, “la”.